Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520; 113 S. Ct. 2217; 124 L. Ed. 2d 472 (1993)

Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520; 113 S. Ct. 2217; 124 L. Ed. 2d 472 (1993)

Facts—The Santeria religion, a fusion of Roman Catholicism and native African religion chiefly developed in the Caribbean, practices animal sacrifice as a means of appeasing spirits known as orishas. Animals are killed in church ceremonies by cutting their carotid arteries and usually eaten thereafter. The Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. was established in Hialeah, Florida, and met with considerable negative public reaction. The local city council adopted a number of ordinances designed to prevent animal sacrifice within the city. The church argued that it was protected by the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. A U.S. District Court ruled for the city, finding that it had four compelling interests. The U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

Question—Did Hialeah’s laws against animal sacrifice violate the free exercise clause of the First Amendment as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment?


ReasonsJ. Kennedy (9–0). Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith (1990), established that “a law that is neutral and of general applicability need not be justified by a compelling governmental interest even if the law has the incidental effect of burdening a particular religious practice.” In this case, however, the law is not neutral, and stricter scrutiny was needed. The free exercise clause was designed to prevent discrimination “against some or all religious beliefs” and may not regulate or prohibit conduct “because it is undertaken for religious reasons.” The law in question was discriminatory on its face, specifically using words like “sacrifice” and “ritual” that targeted Santeria practices. Its discriminatory purpose was further confirmed by the fact that it permitted “hunting, slaughter of animals for food, eradication of insects and pests, and euthanasia as necessary” but specifically singled out religious sacrifices “for discriminatory treatment.” If the city was concerned, as it said, with improper disposal of animal remains, it could have done so without a “flat prohibition of all Santeria sacrificial practice.” Similarly, if its main concern were preventing cruelty to animals, it would have applied its regulations to hunting and fishing. Equal protection cases are helpful in pointing the Court to the need for “neutrality,” and laws of “general ap- plicability: The principle that government, in pursuit of legitimate interests, cannot in a selective manner impose burdens only on conduct motivated by religious beliefs is essential to the protection of the rights guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause.” This law is both under- and over-inclusive. Once a law is found not to be neutral or generally applicable, it falls not under the test announced in Smith but is subjected to strict scrutiny. This law does not meet this heightened standard.

J. Scalia, concurring, opposed inquiry into the “subjective” intent of those who adopted the statute, preferring to focus on the statute’s “effects.” J. Souter, concurring, called for a reexamination of the Smith decision, believing that when laws of general applicability affect religious practices, they should be not only formally neutral but substantively so. He specifically disputed the Court’s interpretation of precedents in the Smith case. J. Blackmun, concurring, also believed the decision in this case should extend beyond “those rare occasions on which the government explicitly targets religion (or a particular religion) for disfavored treatment.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Law Faculty
error: Content is protected !!